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This month, French Defence games played by the top-levels players were dominated by the Classical Steinitz Variation. I've therefore analysed a number of contests with that variation, and added a couple of other games of interest to supplement previously covered theory.

Download PGN of August '13 French games

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Classical Variation with 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 [C11]

As noted, the Steinitz line of the Classical Variation was seen repeatedly among elite players, with this standard starting point:

Here a variety of variations were represented. The line 7...Qb6 8 Na4 Qa5+ 9 c3 b6 occurred in Caruana - Fridman, Dortmund 2013. Then the piece sacrifice 10 Bd2 c4 11 b4 Nxb4 12 cxb4 Bxb4 followed:

This has been analysed in some depth in previous updates. I like Caruana's choice of piece placements, and he scored a nice victory, but there are many unanswered questions here, and even the course of the game was full of ups and downs.

A very traditional line was given a new twist in Caruana - Meier, Dortmund 2013.

In this well-known position White innovated with 16 Ng3 and tried to initiate kingside action. Black reacted well and even could have gained a substantial advantage. In general, both sides had chances in this back-and-forth battle.

Mo - Stoyko, USATE 2013, features a startling idea as early as move seven that has almost never been seen in master play. Instead of playing any number of central and queenside moves, Black attacks on the kingside with 7...h6!?:

The main idea is simply ...g5, and ...h6 can prove useful in any case. This position has arisen just a few times via the order 3 Nc3 h6, but the possibility in the Steinitz Variation hasn't been noticed. Stoyko contributed this game to the column; he has played 7...h6 many times with success, both over the board and on ICC. Perhaps White can enjoy a small positional edge with accurate play, but this is a good practical weapon that will undoubtedly throw your opponent off.

Another little-played move which has gotten some attention this year comes in the following main-line Steinitz position (from the 7...Be7 line):

White played 11 a3 in Leko - Wang Hao, Dortmund 2013. Black entered the wrong line and was on the verge of defeat, but a few inaccuracies by White allowed him to slip away and split the point.

Finally, the sequence 7...cxd4 8 Nxd4 Qb6, which has been featured in recent columns (especially the May Update) showed up in only one high-level game, Kravtsiv - Batchuluun, Kazan 2013.

The same old position, with the usual result: draw. I haven't repeated all the theory in the notes; but again, if this holds up it's hard to see how White deviates.

Fort Knox 8 Ned2 [C10]

The Fort Knox Defence retains a following among masters, although the number of top-class advocates seems to be declining. One simple system which keeps Black in a slightly passive condition is the retreat Ned2, generally followed by Nc4

This has proven a rather thankless position for Black, even if it may be playable. In the game Gharamian - Megaranto, Biel 2013, White established a bind and eventually overcame his opponent's resistance.

Exchange Variation 4 Nf3 Nc6 [C01]

To supplement recent columns I should point out Kashtanov - Yandemirov, Alushta 2013, in which the Exchange Variation with 4 Nf3 Nc6!? 5 Bb5 Bd6 was tested again (a nice game with 4...Nf6 is in the notes):

White seems unable to extract any advantage from this position.

Till next month, John

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